Examining the Reasons Behind the Communist Victory in China

by Salome Tsikarishvili

The Chinese Civil War which took place between the years of 1927 and 1949 was a truly chaotic time for China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) emerged victorious from the civil war and established the Mao regime.

From today's perspective, some of us may be tempted to ask why the communist ideology triumphed back then in China? What led to the world becoming even more crimson in the upcoming struggle that would be the Cold War, and what shifted the scales of power to favor this ideology or the people who stood for it?

Guerrilla Tactics and Strong Leadership

The civil war can be broken up into two main phases, and the break between them can be called the phase of cooperation. In the first phase, the CCP used guerrilla tactics and revolutionary warfare in the fight against the Japanese and the opposing forces within the country. This fighting style, which the opposition didn't share or have many experiences with, gave them a slight edge.

Apart from their fighting style, another crucial factor that could explain their victory was strong CCP leadership.

Firstly, the army of the CCP was led by Lin Biao who was an excellent military commander. He successfully transformed the troops from a guerrilla fighting force into a regular army, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) -- a shift that eventually helped them turn the tides in war.

In the later stages of the war, the PLA became even more effective as it was able to capture weapons from the Nationalist forces led by Chiang Kai-shek. Better conditions and better fighting tactics that came from stronger leader figures made it possible for the PLA troops to have higher morale than the Nationalist troops.

In addition to these, the better behavior of the communist soldiers caught the attention and the favor of the peasantry. This became an important factor as even if the Nationalists took over, they may not have the support of the public.

Role of Mao

One of the things most central to the success of the CCP was the leadership displayed by Mao. During the Long March when the communist forces were fleeing from the Nationalists, it was his instructions that kept the PLA going in the harsh terrain and horrible conditions.

Moreover, it was also his innovative guerrilla tactics that enabled the CCP to survive and broaden its base. He was able to take advantage of the opportunity presented by a war with Japan and adapt his ideas and policies to the changing military situation.

Despite revolutionary ideas involving the attacks against the bourgeoisie or the middle classes during the war against Japan, Mao stressed that this conflict was in fact a national struggle of the Chinese people and that all classes should work together to overthrow their oppressors.

The Spread of Red

We cannot underestimate the spread of communist ideas throughout the country as a factor for their victory. During the war with Japan, the doctrine spouted by the CCP forces seemed increasingly favorable to the general population, thus causing them to support the party.

The communists also continued their ideas of land reform in the territories they captured. The ideas moved into towns and cities and the army would slowly take control of them by working as police to prevent crime, control food distribution, and establish fairer tax collection systems.

Here, we have to take into account how big this change was for China at the time when the country was plagued with famine and poverty due to the distribution of wealth and problems arising from regionalism previously.

Before this, China was ruled by warlords who would collect taxes and fund his own army, hence giving him more or less the status of a king in his own region. This was coupled with the fact that despite being a large country, China was not producing enough food for its people causing famines all throughout.

The ideas of the communist party appealed to these people who finally wanted to see change and especially to the majority that comprised the lower classes who could see their future is guaranteed by the ideas that communists preached. These activities broaden the base of support for CCP domestically giving them an edge over their opponents.

The Role of Intelligence

One of the biggest advantages in a war is knowing your opponent's plans better than the opponent knows yours, and the better intelligence system of the CCP accomplished just that.

The Nationalist party's Assistant Chief of Staff known as Liu Fei was a spy working for the Communist party. He wasn't the only high ranking communist in a trench coat among the Nationalists.

In fact, many CCP members had gained high positions in the Nationalist party and kept the information they learned flowing to Mao. The CCP knew all of the Nationalist plans before they made them.

In contrast, the Nationalist party failed to succeed in something similar as their agents were discovered pretty quickly when they tried to infiltrate the other side.

The Weakness of GMD (Nationalist Party)

Backed by the US the Nationalists, should have in theory, performed better than a group of ragtag communists who had no support from any great external power.

In the later stages of the war, their rule continued to become more and more repressive -- they continued to resist democratic reforms and were unable to fix the rampant inflation. This damaged their support base and lost them the favor among middle classes who rapidly turned to communists.

On top of that, there were also a number of military mistakes. Low-quality training and low morale contributed to a large number of deserters. The people in charge continued pouring money and troops into the wrong campaigns causing their resources to bleed dry. This diminished their support base and enabled the opponents to gain an upper hand.


In the end, while the CCP won, it remains important to examine the reasons why the CCP managed to emerge victoriously. One way to look at this issue is that it helps us understand how power is amassed. The CCP started as the underdog in this situation and nobody, not even the USSR expected them to come out on top.

However, by looking at the factors that allowed them to win, we can understand how such things happen and what factors we have to look out for. Above all, we gain a deeper understanding of how power is collected from what sources and what that power can eventually amount to.


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